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Edelman: Plenty of lessons to be learned from Trump administration’s mistakes

Before I retired, I’d assemble my team after each project was done to go over lessons learned from both our mistakes and successes, to sharpen our skills and develop a set of best practices. Equally important was learning to recognize possible problems and avoid repeating mistakes.

Even though the coronavirus pandemic is far from over, the Trump administration has been presented with many opportunities to learn from its mistakes.

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Lesson 1: Be prepared for catastrophes. In 2017, the outgoing Obama administration briefed the incoming Trump team on a rapidly-spreading virus, H9N2, which could become the worst influenza epidemic since 1918. H9N2 existed only as a desktop exercise designed specifically to alert the incoming Trump administration that such a crisis would demand preparation and an early, whole-of-government response. Most of the incoming senior staffers who participated in that training are no longer in office. Their replacements are more inclined to tell the president what he wants to hear than what he needs to hear.

Lesson 2: Listen and learn from experts. The Trump administration had plenty of advance warning from its own staff. In 2018, the White House Council of Economic Advisors produced a report warning that a pandemic could wreak destruction on the economy. That report also cautioned against responding to such a pandemic as if it were just a seasonal flu outbreak. It clearly stated that the private sector “may be insufficient to develop new vaccine technologies.” The report said a pandemic flu would deliver a $41 billion hit per week to the economy, and the total could reach $3.79 trillion. It also said that in a worst-case scenario, it could result in upwards of a half-million deaths. Flu viruses mutate every season; that’s why we need new vaccines yearly and why we never develop lifetime immunity to flu. The CEA report cited a 1-in-25 chance of a mutation resulting in a pandemic, so the expected annual cost of one is as much as $151 billion. A New York Times story reported that report went “unheeded.”

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Those numbers should raise significant alarms, leading to lesson 3: Be prepared. The United States was more ready for this sort of crisis in 2016 than in 2020. In 2018, Trump eliminated the White House National Security Council Directorate for Global Health Security and Biodefense as a cost-cutting measure. That decision eliminated the United States’ ability to monitor and respond timely to the events in Wuhan, China in late 2019. The Chinese were not forthcoming about this disease, it is true, but even so, the nation was needlessly caught short when things went to pot in January. To this day, PPE and ventilators are not where they are most needed, and Trump is at war over supplying them to states with Democratic governors who don’t “appreciate” him.

Sometimes even well-planned projects go off the rails, and the United States’ lack of preparedness led to chaotic, inadequate, uncoordinated reaction to this crisis. This points to lesson 4: Change your plans to deal with changing circumstances. Even as infections and death kept going up at a staggering rate, Trump insisted everything was under control. In early February, he said, “Looks like by April … it miraculously goes away.” Later in February, he said, “the coronavirus is very much in control. Stock market starting to look very good.” As things worsened daily, Trump started scapegoating his favorite targets. “The fake news media and their partner, the Democratic Party is [sic] doing everything in its power … to inflame the Corona Virus situation.” Governors of both parties issued stay-in-place orders to slow the rate of infections. Realizing finally that the virus was beyond his control, the president turned his attention to the fractured economy, saying “we cannot let the cure be worse than the problem.” Late last month, he said, “I’d love to have the country opened up and just raring to go by Easter.” Dr. Anthony Fauci urged people to stay home, but the president refuses to urge governors to issue an order. Last week, the Centers for Disease Control suggested that we wear face masks. This past weekend, Trump declared he would not.

The president’s daily news conference reveals how very little those lessons have penetrated the White House’s thinking. The evidence screams, “we need better testing. We need a nationwide stay-at-home policy.” Despite our nation’s wealth and power, people are hurting everywhere, even in rural Carroll County, which has the greatest Covid-19 death rate in Maryland. And that leads to another lesson: we cannot rely on the president to manage this crisis, and if we’ve learned nothing else, we should know not give him a second chance in 2021.

Wishing you and your family a happy, healthy, and safe Easter or Passover.

Mitch Edelman, vice chairperson of the Carroll County Democratic Central Committee, writes from Finksburg. His column appears every other Tuesday. Email him at mjemath@gmail.com.

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